Ohs in the Australian Offshore Petroleum Industry

Executive summary

The offshore gas and oil industry is highly hazardous. Therefore, the expectations of workers and society are that safety measures should be extremely maintained by the industry players. In fact, offshore oil and gas operators are expected to maintain high safety standards and reduce dangers associated with major accidents that may occur. On the other hand, the industry regulators are expected to provide a foundational framework that safety regulations and compliance should be based on. The main duty of the industry regulators is to ensure that the operators properly manage safety measures that have been established and minimize accidental risks.

With such high responsibility, the regulators are anticipated to display a high level of competency and flexibility while their work must be clearly spelled out and understood. The scope of their responsibility must cover all relevant offshore operations. Nevertheless, to appropriately regulate the offshore industry, Australia has sanctioned an augmented obligation. Though the industry has been having a good reputation in the past, some incidences in recent years have raised eyebrows over the competency, responsibilities, and safety measures that have been put in place by the regulatory authority.

A closer look at the regulatory authority reveals that there is jurisdiction miscellany, poor legal framework, processes, and regulatory boundaries that result in poor relationships with the operators. Under such an environment, any safety measures deficiency cannot be simply detected and addressed in order to reduce the risks of major accidental events. The result also reveals that not all industrial operators have mature safety cultures or seek to operate at best practice safety levels.

To deal with these shortcomings, the industry regulators must cope with the differences that exist between themselves and the operators. They must also instill motivation and safety cultures among the operators. Besides, the regulatory authority should focus their inadequate resources towards aiding high-risk operators, facilities, and activities. In essence, the regulators have to promote better practices among the operators, put together the prescriptive and cooperative elements, genuine dialogue, goodwill, and pro-activity among the participants.

Based on these, this paper therefore critically analyzes the occupational health and safety environment in the offshore gas and petroleum industry found within Australia. The paper first discusses the current state of occupational health and safety in Australia while comparing and contrasting the incidences of safety in offshore and onshore industries. The report will then focus on the legislation, regulatory measures, and Acts that provide support to these regulatory measures that have been inaugurated, the gaps and overlaps that have ever since existed in these legislations. The paper finally examines ways through which these legislations can be harmonized to provide a uniform, simple and understandable legislation that can be easily adhered to by the operators.


Currently, the occupational health and safety of persons dealing with offshore petroleum operations are under the regulation of various bodies whose main functions are specified in the Australian and Commonwealth legislate (Ognedal et al. 2008). These functions include the endorsement of work-related health and wellbeing measures that have been widened and put into operation, effectual monitoring and enforcement approach to ensure that the operators duly comply with the regulations set out in the Act. In addition, the bodies have the responsibility of investigating occurrences, accidents as well as conditions that may have effects on operators or have the prospective of disturbing the occupational health and safety (Ognedal et al. 2008). The investigative findings must be reported to appropriately responsible authorities and provide advice to persons either on behalf of or upon requesting for issues relating to occupational health and safety matters.

However, the operations of many regulatory bodies have hindered the attainments of high standards in occupational health and safety measures within the offshore gas and oil drilling industry. As a result, the industry regulators have called for the information from single safety authority that is capable and mandated by the legislations to regulate the safety measures in the offshore petroleum industry (Pope, 2006).

The major aims for coming up with this single body is to make simple the regulatory environment, curtail the breaches and overlaps that have existed among the regulators. Besides, they are intended to moderate the legislations and ensure high degree of competency and consistency in compliance, administration and application of the legislations (Pope, 2006). The body must also ensure that there is significant growth in that sector and achieve best practices in the Australian petroleum’s offshore industry.

Basically, regulatory efficacy refers to appropriately dealt with recognized difficulties while regulatory competence looks forward to get the most benefits arising from a regulatory intervention while taking into account all the associated costs (Finnestrad et al. 2003). However, as more and more prime tribulations together with disasters continue to surface, high levels of prescriptive parameters are constantly being added to the occupational health and safety measures (Hopkins 2002, p.465). Currently, the debate over regulation has taken a new twist. It has moved from an impractical focus on deregulation to a more complicated investigation on the most excellent type of regulation. Moreover, the investigation has also been directed towards appropriate governance and enforcement to support socially attractive conduct on the part of all the stakeholders and decrease preventable hazards particularly those risks associated with major accidents or disasters (Roarty, 2008).

The current state of Occupational Health and Safety in Australia

Latest incidences have brought into spotlight the safety of workers at the offshore petroleum industry. Questions are being raised whether the operators are taking cognizant of the safety measures that have been put in place. The situation has been worsening with many industrial players especially the workers union calling for tight regulatory measures backed up with legislations to monitor the conduct of the operators. With many fatal accidents that have continuously been occurring, many stakeholders especially the Australian government have come to the realization that there is need for well established occupational health and safety measures at the offshore petroleum facilities (Ognedal et al. 2008).

Offshore gas and oil drilling industry is a complex and highly hazardous industry. It requires high safety measures to reduce risks of fatal accidents such as incidences that have been witnessed in the current decade. However, most industrial operators have not established measures that will ensure safety of their workers. In other words, they have not adopted safety culture in their operations or seek out for the best practices that guarantee high standards of safety (Ayers & Braithwaite, 1995).

Despite these reported incidences, the Australian offshore industry has a good reputation for safety issues compared to the onshore oil and gas industry (Roarty, 2008). The only difference is the high risks involved in the offshore facilities and the complexities in their operations. Besides, the offshore regulatory measures and bodies have also been wreaked with problems ranging from differences among themselves to the implementation processes (Roarty, 2008). The operators have taken advantage of these weaknesses to flout safety laws and regulations that have been put in place.

A cross examination of the operators and regulators indicate that poor relationship exists among these industrial players. As a result, many inadequacies in the part of the operators go unreported (Ognedal et al. 2008). Moreover, risks associated with major accidents cannot be easily tackled by the regulators. High expectations on safety measures coupled with fatal incidences in the offshore facilities have made the industry players and the government to come up with a common safety regulation body and another single body that ensures its compliance (Finnestrad et al. 2003). Though these regulations have ever been in existence, the differences among the regulators, weak legislations and the reluctance of the operators to ensure safety measures for their workers have not made their implementation successful.

Generally the occupational health and safety measures in Australia are not within the threshold of the commonwealth regulations. The major contributors to the drawback are the industry operators or firms which constantly fail to comply with the regulatory measures that have been set up (Hopkins 2002, p. 462). Besides, complexities and limitations on the legislations have also contributed to proper compliance with the regulatory measures. In as much as all the stakeholders in the industry may be blamed for the meager performance of the occupational health and safety measures, the regulatory bodies have failed to ensure that the operators and other stakeholders comply to the laid down rules.

The existing regulatory environment and the OHS legislative framework

Basically, there are nine Occupation, Health and Safety jurisdictions with huge number of laws and regulations which relate to workplace safety and health. This incorporates nearly ten particular Occupation, Health and Safety statutes and over fifty various other legislative mechanisms which ideally apply to scores of offshore sectors. The statutes include two Commonwealth, two territory Acts and six state Acts. On the other hand, the offshore sectors entail construction, mining, petroleum, public safety ( such as lifts, scaffolding, machinery, gas safety, plumbing, electrical safety, amusement and equipments), public health (including veterinary chemicals, agriculture and radiations) as well as statutes which relate to radioactive materials, transport of dangerous merchandises, and many other explosives (Daintith, 2005).

In every jurisdiction, the general Australian Occupation, Health and Safety laws are anchored on the model developed by Robens. In the United Kingdom, the Committee of Robens made various recommendations that gave rise to pervasive legislative transformations in Occupation, Health and Safety across other countries and the UK (Barrell, 1996). This made the OHS laws to shift from prescriptive and detailed standards to an advanced performance and self regulatory based approach.

The model proposed by Robens incorporated two decisive principal constituents. These included a solitary umbrella statute that contained extensive general studies which was derived from the duty of care common law. The other principal element was the inclusion of self regulation by the duty holders who empower others after consulting with the workers to settle on how they might go along with the broad-spectrum obligations. In fact, the regulatory conditions had to be exchanged with three tiers strategy that involved codes of practices and regulations that were planned to critically sustain the overall responsibilities in that Act. Furthermore, the utilization of prohibition and improvement notices was recommended by Robens in conformity actions as novel managerial approvals for enabling the controllers to add to the culture that was self regulatory (Braithwaite, 2009).

All the jurisdictions in the precedent decades have assumed key OHS laws reviews. The very current and widely accessible reviews were the accomplished Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and New South Wales. In these territories, such reviews caused new OHS Acts to be introduced.

Despite having several objectives, there were observations of pertinent OHS laws in the reviews which tackled numerous matters incorporated in the references terms. These included:

  • Warranting that the overall duties incorporate the kinds of duty arrangement which are external to the workers affiliations and customary employers’ associations
  • Offering enhanced precision to regulators and duty holders to define major conceptions
  • Introducing extra enforcement actions and increasing penalties, for instance, implementable duties; and
  • To strengthen provision which relate to representation, partaking and consultation

Reviews in most jurisdictions tend to equally examine the particular legislatives in the consolidating industry under the Occupation, Health and Safety Act. As a result of the topical NT legislation reviews, new-fangled Workplace Safety and Health Act of 2007 had to be extended to incorporate dangerous goods regulation and mine safety responsibilities (Chiles, 2002),

Harmonizing the current OHS regulations and laws in Australia

Basically, from various studies literature, it is apparent that the Occupation Health and Safety regulations and laws in Australia ought to be completely harmonized in order to be uniform to cover any industry and location within the Australian Commonwealth jurisdictions as well as its territories and states. The following reasons clearly support the stand as to why the OHS regulations and laws in Australia should be harmonized (Jamieson, Lautenbach & Richards, 2007).

  • From the current standpoint, the Australian national Occupation, Health and Safety strategies incorporates a countrywide reliable regulatory framework which forms a solitary area out of the nine areas that require state actions. Whereas some progresses have been realized towards the achievement of consistencies in several Occupation, Health and Safety regulation areas, material differences tend to exist amid the most important OHS Acts as the report identifies.
  • The Public Commission (PC), the Council of Australian Government as well as the Territories and States have similarly recognized the significance of the harmonized Occupation Health and Safety laws in their respective areas of works to date (Pope, 2006).
  • The review ought to be the broader part of the Australian Government Council national reform agenda that is aimed at creating flawless national economy and reducing the regulatory burdens. For instance, from the month of February of the fiscal year 2006 when the Australian Government Council decided to improve on the uptake and development of the national Occupation, Health and safety standards, it has been reported that the Council of Australian Compensation and Safety has been constantly reviewing the national framework for the Occupation, Health and Safety to realize better national prioritizing and consistency harmonization areas (Hopkins, 2002).
  • It is however important to note that the utilization of legislative model is the most effective approach towards the achievement of Occupation, Health and Safety laws harmonised. This constitutes part of what was agreed by the WRMC when a meeting was held on 1st February 2008. Such harmonization even have the overwhelming support of the Australian Government Ministers who had the intentions of initiating reviews for developing a legislative model and agreeing to settle the reference terms for reviewing, that is the priority attention areas.
  • All the jurisdictions commitment to adopt the Occupation, Health and Safety laws model by 2011 had been formalized by the time when the Australian Government pended its signature on an intergovernmental agreement that defines the cooperation processes and principles amongst territories, State and Commonwealth. The Main aim is to implement Occupation, Health and Safety legislation that is uniform in order to be complemented by dependable enforcement and compliance approaches (Roarty, 2008).
  • The newly formed body that is supposed to replace Safe Work Australia, ASCC, is supposed to develop an Act of model derived on recommended decisions on WRMC. When the OHS regulations and laws are harmonized, Safe Work Australia will be motivated to develop a regulatory model for supporting the model Occupation, Health and Safety Act.

Therefore, given that for the past twenty years deliberate efforts have been geared towards making the Occupation, Health and Safety regulations to be consistent at national levels through developing Codes of Practices and National OHS Standards, harmonizing the current OHS regulations and laws in Australia is deemed very essential. This is because there is non-existence of binding jurisdiction obligations for adopting such national OHS codes and standards. Besides, in cases where the adoption of National Occupation, Health and Safety standards are adopted by the jurisdiction, they happen to do so at varying degrees. In fact, the jurisdictions are bound to frequently rework or amend the national standards definitions and clauses so as to bring them in line with their particular Occupation, Health and Safety Acts (Daintith, 2005).

The industry of commission in the fiscal 1995 released a Safety, Health and Work: Inquiry into Occupational Health and Safety report. In this report the commission underlined the apparent extensive discrepancies in Occupation Health and Safety legislation in standard uptake and development. For instance, up to the financial year 1995, the National Occupation Health and Safety Commission had just confirmed five out of seven precedence standards and the jurisdictions had none of them executed. The conclusion drawn by the Commission of Industry was that the OHS legislation was non-uniform and this could have imposed considerable expenses on the trade society (Roarty, 2008).

Despite the associated costs incurred to harmonize the OHS legislation, it materializes that harmonization would alleviate the costs of state employers who are bound to work in various Occupation, Health and Safety jurisdictions. In reality, manifold regimes imply extra expenses every time the employees are move or work systems changed to amid regimes. Non-uniform OHS legislation equally raises the observance expenses by their respective operations. The following are the associated costs of harmonizing the Occupation, Health and Safety legislation.

  • Different national and state legislation could permit superior novelty in regulation after a while
  • Businesses that operate in merely a single jurisdiction could gain via the suppleness tendered by systems that are non-uniform

Therefore, to harmonize the OHS legislation, the commission of industries recommends that the template legislation should be used to cover the core Occupation, Health and Safety elements. This is because each and every jurisdiction should agree to adopt the harmonized OHS legislation with no or very minute amendments through cooperative federalism procedure (Clarke et al., 2006).


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